A Brief History of Troop Crests

Troop Crests are some of the oldest official insignia. Originally, each patrol (sub-group) within a troop had a different crest. The first troop in Savannah, for example, had White Rose, Carnation, Red Rose, and Poppy patrols. Over time, crests began to encompass the entire troop.

Original Savannah Girl Scouts (Georgia Historical Society)

Early troops were identified by their crest, not troop number, as in this Washington Post article from 1914.

Clipping from the Washington Post (March 29, 1914).

Similarly, members of this troop were the “Surrey Poppies.”

Washington, DC’s “Surrey Poppies” troop, 1931

In May 1913, Juliette Gordon Low brought a selection of English Girl Guide crests for the earliest American troops to use. The English crests were circles of black felt, embroidered with bright colors and a red border.

The Girl Scouts adopted many of the English crests in 1920. They soon realized that the Blackbird crest was almost invisible when embroidered on black felt. The girls decided to use blue thread instead and renamed it “Bluebird” in 1922.

Chart based on John Player and Sons, Patrol Signs and Emblems trading cards

Traditionally, once girls chose a crest, it was used for the lifetime of the troop.

Excerpt from 1947 Handbook

But there are exceptions to every rule. Estelle Kelso, owner of this uniform, was either in a troop that picked a new crest each year or perhaps she changed troops.

Daisy, Mountain Laurel, and Poppy Crests

Contrary to popular belief, meanings have only been ascribed to crests in recent years. The early crests were all flowers, trees, waterfalls, stars and other non-floral designs came later. Between 1923 and 1930, troops were encouraged to

choose the names of famous women, either from real life or literature, and “build up troop traditions around them. … select women “who have done conspicuous service or pioneer work in professional and scientific fields, or who were associated with our early American life, either in the colonies or in the Westward moving border lands.”

–Blue Book of Rules
Contemporary Troop Crest Meanings, Girl Scouts of Central Maryland

From 1918 to 2011, troops could also design their own crests. They chose images that reflect their interests or perhaps a local landmark or significant culture. The meanings of many, however, are known only to the girls.

Whatever the design, fabric, or official status, crests can always be identified by shape. Crests are oval, all badges are (or were) round. That’s a difference that is easily overlooked by even the best historians. The rare fuchsia crest at right was mis-identified online by the Georgia Historical Society.

Designs have come and gone over the years. In 2011 the oval shape was replaced by a shield shape. Yet some designs have remained nearly unchained for over 100 years.

What new designs will be added in the future?

©2019 Ann Robertson

5 thoughts on “A Brief History of Troop Crests

  1. I loved this piece of history. Brilliantly organized and written. Something I would love to share at the Woman of Courage, Character and Confidence in May 2020. Is your research something that can be shared beyond my computer and your web site?

    • Marianna, you may share my posts as long as proper attribution is covered. I’ve written a history of my council, and I have another book projected to be published in 2020. Thank you for asking!

  2. When I was a GS (1960s) troop crests were mainly flowers and I think two birds. It was also generally choose one and then forget about it. I always wondered why they chose a crest if it was never used for anything.
    On the other hand, now that I’m a GS historian, I have come across a badge sash from a girl who was a Scout in Japan where her father served in the military. The troop chose as their crest a locally available small batch embroidered with the image of Mt Fuji, which was visible from the base where they lived.

  3. Karen, I would LOVE to see (and possibly borrow?) that sash. We recently received three scrapbooks of the military family GS troops in Japan in the 1950s. Our Feb 2020 Thinking Day exhibit will be devoted to Japan: US troops in Japan, Japanese troops, and possibly troops in the US internment camps.

    • I doubt the council would loan it out, though it never hurts to ask. I’ll see if I can get you some photos of it. I can also get the girls name, base and the years. I believe this was a 60’s sash.

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